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Neighbors heartbroken, blindsided by Rhythm and Booms decision

Published On: Jul 19 2013 06:06:00 AM CDT   Updated On: Jul 19 2013 07:21:22 AM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

Neighbors on Madison's north side who supported the region's largest fireworks show shouted their disapproval Thursday and said the mayor "should feel guilty" about its move.

More than 50 people jammed into a meeting room at the Warner Park Community Center, where they were told Rhythm and Booms wasn't coming back -- no matter how hard they tried. Madison Festivals, Inc., the event's organizer, said Wednesday the fireworks were moving downtown because they weren't financially sustainable on the north side.

Thursday, the Madison Mallards baseball team's president said he was committed to helping replace the longstanding event with a smaller, team-sponsored show.

"I'm very grateful to them for offering to step up," said Ald. Anita Weier, who represents the north side. "Mayor (Paul) Soglin and Madison Festivals announced what they were going to do without any input from the neighborhood."

Most neighbors who came Thursday were angry with the decision to move the Fourth of July celebration.

"I was heartbroken," said one neighbor. "Kids have grown up with Rhythm and Booms,  and younger (parents) in the neighborhood would like to see it continue for our children."

Another woman asked if she could start a petition to bring the show back, but Ald. Larry Palm, who represents the north side, said that wouldn't be effective.

"(Madison Festivals) informed us that they lost money," he said. "Not being able to break even on an event is a problem for any organization."

The meeting at one point broke down into neighbors shouting, including one man pointing a finger at the alders and blaming the city for the decision.

Others thanked Mallards team President Vern Stenman for volunteering to start a new show on Fourth of July next year -- and for pledging to pay for it.

A lot of details remain to get worked out, but Stenman said the fireworks show would be half the length of Rhythm and Booms and would happen at the team's stadium at Warner Park.

"I was sad to see (Rhythm and Booms) go but, at the same time, we want to look forward and see what the opportunities might be," Stenman said.

One woman in the crowd said she hoped a smaller fireworks show wouldn't turn into a repeat of the controversial Rhythm and Booms.

"Rhythm and Booms was fun but I think it got out of control and was too big," she said. " I'm glad it's moving downtown."

Many neighbors have complained about noise and criminal activity during and after the event in prior years. Madison Festivals organizers responded this year by eliminating beer sales, live music and a carnival, but then said the event wasn't profitable.

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